With vaccination rates rising and many state and local governments lifting what’s left of COVID-related restrictions, employers are tasked with devising plans for the return of employees to their corporate offices and headquarters. However, the challenge of bringing employees back into the office in a safe and positive manner is fairly complex process, with many details to be worked out.

Adding to the complexity is that many employees now favor a hybrid or fully remote work environment, and businesses across the country are trying to acquiesce to those wishes as best they can. To help leaders across industries, including retail, deal with this new challenge, Women in Retail Leadership Circle, along with its sister brand, Women Leading Travel & Hospitality, recently produced a report to offer leaders the information they need to safely and effectively plan for the future of work.

The Back-to-Office Checklist features valuable insights and advice for executives. In addition to a 10-step checklist of action items, the report includes interviews with executives from leading brands across both the retail and travel and hospitality industries. These leaders detail how they’re navigating the many challenges and questions that come with defining a new way to work. One such interview took place with Brynn Evanson, chief human resources officer at Michaels, the leading arts-and-crafts retailer. Here’s a sampling of that interview:

Brynn Evanson, Chief Human Resources Officer, Michaels

Women in Retail Leadership Circle: Has your team investigated a hybrid model? If so, what does that mean for your company?
Brynn Evanson: Michaels is not only committed to supporting makers and the future of creativity, it’s also committed to the future of the workplace. We’re embracing a new hybrid model that combines both working remotely and spending some time in the office. We believe this hybrid approach offers the human connection people have been craving while keeping the flexibility benefits of working remotely. 

We surveyed our team members to get their work preference, and most said they prefer a hybrid schedule. Their leader partnered with them to ensure their preference would be feasible, and with few exceptions, both the team member and leader were able to agree on a mutually agreeable schedule. In August, we plan to welcome team members to our new corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas.

WIRLC: Has Michaels found that its employees have been even more productive working remotely, as many companies have reported? If so, how do you encourage them to want to return to the office?
BE: We listened to our team members and we’re offering a hybrid working model when we welcome them back to our office in August 2021. We also believe there are benefits to both working remotely and spending some time in the office collaborating in person.

WIRLC: What are the technology considerations in moving to a hybrid work model? How will the company ensure inclusivity?
BE: There are technology considerations. Right now, we’re reviewing a scheduling system that will allow team members to sign up for the days in which they want to work in the office. In order to maximize capacity, that system is being programmed to ensure team members are given options and scheduled in a way that maximizes our capacity throughout the workweek. Because the system will drive available options, it will also promote fairness in scheduling. Furthermore, it will help ensure everyone has a space to work given we will have social distanced seating and desks.

In addition, we’re planning for ample collaborative space for team members so people can work from the office if they’d like or come in for a meeting or two, just not in an assigned space.

WIRLC: What is Michaels doing to acquire and retain employees in this new work environment?
BE: The hybrid model in and of itself is a significant advantage in recruitment and retention. As we all get used to working in this new way, we also expect additional learnings that we can utilize to continue to engage our teams in a sustainable way. 

As a bonus, our office space is brand new, which we’re all very excited about. It has been designed to encourage and inspire energy and creativity.

WIRLC: Do you think a hybrid work model will help working mothers balance the pressures of work and home, and as a result, remain in the workforce longer?
BE: A hybrid work model is beneficial for working parents, especially working mothers who still tend to balance more demands between home and the office. Providing a flexible model where a working mother can choose which days she’s in the office or working from home offers flexibility that leads to a more balanced and sustainable schedule.

Unfortunately, the pandemic proved particularly challenging for working moms. Many left the workforce and many haven’t gone back. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in January that there are 1.4 million more women not working than during the same month last year.

We believe a hybrid and flexible work schedule blends the best of both worlds. When our team members are supported and happy, it’s likely that they will be more engaged in everything they do and hopefully remain in the workforce as long as they like.

Download the full report, Back-to-Office Checklist, for interviews with additional industry leaders as well as practical, actionable advice as your company plans to bring employees back into the office.